'Detransition, Baby' Is as Good as Everyone Says It Is

Rachel Epstein
·20 min read
Photo credit: Design By Morgan McMullen
Photo credit: Design By Morgan McMullen

From Marie Claire

Torrey Peters didn't write Detransition, Baby for a cisgender audience (she's speaking to trans people), though cisgender women can learn a great deal about gender, motherhood, and queer identity from Peters's electric novel. The book, one of the first releases from a major publishing house written by a trans person, centers on three people—cisgender and transgender—whose lives become intertwined after a surprise pregnancy. What follows is a masterclass in storytelling only Peters could pull off with her wit, humor, and vulnerability. The book epitomizes why trans voices need to be amplified.

As one #ReadWithMC reviewer notes, Detransition, Baby "invites readers to question the limits of binary thought, examining the politically-charged and deeply transphobic language surrounding the existence of trans folks; while also taking on the often misunderstood and polarizing topic of detransitioning (a reality that TERFs like J.K. Rowling live to exploit for their own gains)." Meanwhile, another reader explains how she applied the lessons she learned from the characters to her own life. "As the book explores Reese's deep desire to be a mother, I couldn't help examine my own. Like Reese, I knew I've always wanted to be a mother. But unlike Reese, I didn't have to make a case for it. It was a given. And as disappointment came every month, I was solely focused on the unfairness of it all. How easy it was to cast myself as a victim. But I see how silly I have been."

To put it simply, Detransition, Baby lives up to the hype. Find out exactly why so many people loved Marie Claire's February book club pick, below.

"Torrey Peters's Detransition, Baby is a novel that promises from its outset to be provocative, insightful, and trans as all hell, and boy did it deliver on all counts.

It centers on three major characters, cycling between the third person POV of each: Reese, a trans woman in her thirties, Ames, a man who lived for six years as a trans woman named Amy (and Reese's ex girlfriend) before detransitioning, and Katrina, Ames's boss and lover who is carrying his child. Despite Ames and Reese's estrangement from one another, he proposes that the two of them raise the child together with Katrina to satiate Reese's desire to be a mother, Katrina's longing for a full family, and his own wish to be a parental figure outside of a traditional mother or father.

I finished this last night and I need to sit with it for a minute before putting my thoughts down because my feelings are decidedly mixed. I'd almost consider this to be a modern philosophical novel, as the main storyline mostly takes a back seat to the characters espousing Peters's own main viewpoints about life as a millennial transgender woman. And, coming from my own perspective, I didn't agree with everything she or the characters had to say, but that is admittedly to be expected considering my own perspective as a gen z non-binary person. Specifically I found the novel's outlook on gender (especially seen through the character of Ames and other characters' perspectives on him) to be particularly binary in a way that didn't always sit right with me.

But despite my reservations and disagreements, I still could never put the book down, and it engaged, amused, and devastated me at every turn. This is an incredibly competently written and enthralling read, and one that will hopefully change the face of transgender representation in literary fiction." —@magatha_christie_reads

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"DB is funny, riveting, expansive—it cares about the cis gaze without catering to it. Peters dedicates the book to 'divorced cis women' because at the heart of this novel is the idea that failing at womanhood is a brand, if not a sisterhood (cisterhood?)

DB is layered with questions that necessitate stark self awareness. The base q—how is queerness being gentrified? Each character is an answer. Katrina is white-passing Asian and has miscarried. Her queer awakening is not that she’s queer, per say, but she’s down to queer her life. This is only after her divorce and accidentally conceiving with the detransitioned Ames. Her direct counterpart is Reese, equally as impulsive, longing for a child, and in love with Ames. The similarities end there. The exploration of gentrification is arbitrated by Ames, whose flux gives him insights from both sides of the womanhood coin.

Next, who decides the tragedy? Maybe in another book, it would be tragic that Ames left his 'authentic self' and 'became a man again'—but Peters makes it clear that AMES IS STILL TRANS. Peters flashes her poker deck when she reveals that Ames’s deadname is James, not Ames. He never went back. Reese’s tragedy isn’t that she’s trans, it’s her borderline personality. She is deemed 'the only trans girl...whose incessant drama really has nothing to do with the fact that she’s trans…[it’s] just what she makes for herself as a woman'—which brings us to the next question —'Call her a fraud, a hypocrite, superficial, but politics and practice parted paths in her own body.' When was the last time you saw in lit the idea that trans girls get slapped on both cheeks—both radical cis feminists AND the LGB community at large who dictate that wanting to be a woman in the traditional sense is anti-feminist. In this rhetoric, freedom of expression stops when it comes to trans girls and sex workers, who are deemed dangerous? Reese reveres cis-passability, but she is imperfect, still learning how to cheer on Ames’s detransition.

This book goes deep, but the most important point is that it is not about making a martyr or hero out of anyone. It’s about messy, stupid lives that happen to be trans." —@booksnailmail

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"If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be chaotic. And I don’t mean it in a negative way! This book was a little bit all over the place, and while I don’t know if it’s something everyone would love, I do think it’s an extremely important book that deserves a lot of attention.

This is an intensely character-driven book with a slow-moving plot, and let me tell you, these are some flawed characters. Quite frankly, I found Reese to be unlikeable to the extent that it nearly hindered my enjoyment of the book. In the last third, I found myself understanding her more clearly, and everything that had frustrated me for most of the book made a lot more sense. Despite my initial distaste for Reese, I found myself incredibly attached to all three of the main characters, and my heart was pulled in multiple directions, just wanting everyone to have the best outcome. As someone who considers herself a queer ally, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about the trans community and culture, and I’m really grateful to this book for opening my eyes to things I would never have considered.

My big takeaway: Gender is complicated. Sex is complicated. Parenthood is complicated. Be compassionate and kind. We are all just trying to figure things out.

CW: Domestic abuse, transphobia, misogyny, self hatred, suicide." —@book.lover.laura

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"❓ Domestic Fiction, LGBTQ+ Fiction, Own Voices

💗 Character-Driven, Witty, Emotional, Reflective

📖 A trans woman, her detransitioned ex, and his cisgender lover build an unconventional family together in the wake of heartbreak and an unplanned pregnancy.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

'The question for Reese: Were married men just desperately attracted to her?'

Things to Know:

✨ I LOVED THIS BOOK. It was brilliant, witty, emotional, reflective, informative. I laughed, I cried, I cringed. I rooted for the characters, and then wondered what the hell they were thinking. Every bit of writing was intentional. So good!

Detransition, Baby is a story of the trans experience. Torrey Peters covers everything from hormones and plastic surgery to feminism and motherhood, touching on TERFs, violence, fetishism, and the fluidity of gender and sexuality. I learned a lot.

✨ These characters! I honestly can't remember the last time I read a book where the characters felt so alive, so real. It's hard to believe that Reese, Ames, and Katrina aren't actual people, out and about living their lives around New York.

Detransition, Baby had incredibly interesting conversations about motherhood and reproductive rights. Who gets to be a mother? How does one become a mother? Is motherhood the ultimate symbol of womanhood? A cure for loneliness? Unconventional families and living arrangements were also a major theme.

✨ As serious as the themes were, Peters's writing was smart and FUNNY! The book read like an updated, Queer version of Girls or Sex and the City, with added heart and modern sarcasm. I especially loved the memorable cameos from Sarah Jessica Parker and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

'The financial ads said by thirty, you should have saved two years income for retirement. But at age 30, the trans girls Reese knew held most of their investment portfolio in MAC lipstick shades they'd worn once; they spent work days sending each other animated gifs and occasionally got trolled online by actual 13-year-olds.'

Read If You Like:

📚 Luster by Raven Leilani

🎶 It's Okay to Cry by Sophie

📺 This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous" —@booksandbrooklyn

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"Detransition, Baby is about three women, trans and cis, whose lives become intertwined around an unexpected pregnancy. Reese is a trans woman who desperately wants to be a mother. And Ames, Reese's ex, is a destransitioned trans woman who got her boss, Katrina, pregnant. Longing to make sense of the pregnancy and at a chance of a family, Ames propositions that the three of them raise the baby together.

These characters, especially Reese and Ames, are incredibly complex and through them the author does an excellent job of capturing the fluidity of gender, sexuality, and identity with a wit and vulnerability that borders on both hilarity and anguish. Through the lens of a trans woman, my cis woman self related and relearned what womanhood and motherhood meant to me.

My thinking of motherhood has always been from a cis woman perspective. And for a cis woman, pregnancy is a given. Albeit sometimes it is an unwanted expectation, but still it is a given and one that is seen as our inherent right. And I use the term 'our; loosely because let's not forget that coerced sterilization of marginalized groups was happening in 32 states throughout the 20th century. So as a cis woman of color, my right to reproduce was/is seen as a liability, a 'problem' in this country. But still, I am a cis woman and a liberal one at that, which frames my understanding of reproductive rights and how it is socially framed. Cis women view reproductive rights as their right to choose, but why are these rights not extended to trans women? Don't they have a right to choose to be a mother just like cis women have the right to choose not to?

As the book explores Reese's deep desire to be a mother, I couldn't help examine my own. Like Reese, I knew I've always wanted to be a mother. But unlike Reese, I didn't have to make a case for it. It was a given. And as disappointment came every month, I was solely focused on the unfairness of it all. How easy it was to cast myself as a victim. But I see how silly I have been." —@readwithneleh

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"Right now I'm very early in my own transition & I'm married to a cis woman who had no idea about my gender troubles until about a year ago (to be fair, neither did I—repression is a hell of a drug) & we're having discussions about whether we want a child. It's complicated. But holy hell is it simple compared to what Reese, Ames & Katrina are navigating in Detransition, Baby.

Reese & Ames are our main characters—messy, complicated people with lasting trauma, contradictory opinions & frequently v bad decision making skills. Sometimes it was physically painful to follow along with the choices they made or were compelled to make.

I really enjoyed Reese. She's a hardened, cynical, self-described "elder trans" of the type I personally know v few of but desperately want to. Ames, on the other hand, hit closer to home as we follow him before transition, figuring out his gender & sexuality & then later navigating a relationship with Reese. And finally as Ames, manly man again but not really feeling it, trying to solve problems in that masculine style but having a hell of a time of it.

Pretty much every queer archetype appears here—sadly I saw myself mostly in those painted in the worst light (the twitter-born baby trans who sniffs at a morbid joke during an incredibly dark, incredibly funny funeral sequence made me cringe in self-recognition) but almost nobody is a cliche. Personally I'm deep in unpicking my own frequently transphobic beliefs & unlearning everything the media has taught me about queer people, so I cling to this novel like a life raft.

Sometimes the writing felt a bit flabby, but it fits. This is a character study & these characters aren't the kind you can deal with in a concise, streamlined way. They're contradictory. Reese in particular is so sure of herself, which makes it even more delightful when she's pulled up short from an angle she didn't expect. I also would've liked to see more of Ames pre-detransition—we mostly see Amy through Reese's lens at the start & end of her transition & I wanted more.

This book is messy & vital & asks a lot of you. I loved it as a fun book but also as a tool to help me understand myself & the people around me." —B / @stbooker on Twitter

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"I think I’ll be gushing about this one for a long time yet. Torrey Peters has blended storytelling with gender theory so seamlessly that Detransition, Baby is both novel and textbook; a fascinating story and a meditation on queer theory. As a graduate of a women’s and gender studies program, maybe this is more exciting to me than you; but by all turns, this is absolutely a book you should read.

After their relationship sours, Reese and Amy part ways on less than friendly terms. Reese moves on by sleeping with problematic men while Amy detransitions, becoming Ames and living as a cis man. While sleeping with his boss, Katrina, and often thinking of Reese, Ames is suspended between two worlds—neither of which feel intimately true. Yet when his boss-turned-lover becomes pregnant, Ames is pushed to a reckoning. Reese’s deepest desire is to mother a child of her own. Could this unlikely pairing work? As Katrina, Reese and Ames attempt to come to terms with their own desires; their biases and misguided perceptions of one another, of gender, and of race float to the top.

Detransition, Baby is chaotic yet also a deeply tender story of family, both chosen and biological. Peters invites readers to question the limits of binary thought, examining the politically-charged and deeply transphobic language surrounding the existence of trans folks; while also taking on the often misunderstood and polarizing topic of detransitioning (a reality that TERFs like J.K. Rowling live to exploit for their own gains). Detransition, Baby is such a smart, insightful, and lovely novel worth more than my words could ever say." —@wellreadshelf

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"Detransition, Baby blew me away, as I knew she would. I really am astounded by the depth AND breadth explored in this novel—of queerness, of trans identity and embodiment, of womanhood, of motherhood. There’s just so much here: family and desire and biting social commentary, and all of it thrumming vibrant underneath the familiar strictures of lit fic, like, the platonic ideal of 'not your mother’s comedy of manners.'

Torrey Peters is SUCH a writer, and for me much of this book’s charm is in the way she luxuriates in the language itself, with all its interwoven elegance and irony. But see, I say that and then immediately I’m like no no no, the real charm is the heartfelt, full-blooded characterization—especially of Reese and Ames, whose perspectives we see through. And then I circle back to the comedy of manners thing, and how FUNNY this book is. It’s MESSY and razor-sharp and so tender, and just a fucking delight to read, on every level.⁣

Speaking of which, on a purely semantic nerd level, my GOD, the title!!! That comma is doing so much work. It’s at once a cajoling whisper-tease and a truncated plot summary, two possible endpoints of identity presented for your appraisal—walking the 'knife’s edge' of the comma, as Peters herself puts it in one interview I read. And as always, I would be remiss not to mention how much I loved the ending, especially the final line. You KNOW how I am about endings. This one is perfect.⁣

This is a messy review because I’m messy because aren’t we ALL!!!!! But god, I love this book. Please read it, and then come talk to me about how excellent it is. 💋✨🗣⁣" —@carrickreads

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"What a debut, y’all! WOW!

Detransition, Baby is a polarizing and necessary experience.

Peters left me questioning everything I thought I knew about gender, queerness, and motherhood. The storytelling had brutal honesty, exceptional wittiness, and grit. It hit me with a truck in all the right ways.

This book was a great learning experience through stunning representation in art.

I hope this book opens a flood gate for similar books in LGBTQ+ literature! Trans representation matters." —@overbookedstagram

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"First things first: this book has a lot of buzz and for good reason—I thought it was searingly good. These are characters that will be sticking around in my head for a while, they were so flawed and nuanced and fascinating.

I kept using the word 'nuanced' when I was jotting down thoughts as I was reading because it seems like the most appropriate word. The writing in this book is so good and Peters really delves into the nuances of gender dynamics in a thought-provoking way.

Peters makes many sharp observations about people and motherhood, femininity and masculinity, sexuality and love, and identity, and so many other things that are part of the human experience. Maybe that’s what was most striking to me—the way that Peters really captures humanity on the page.

This book made me want to slow down and really focus so that I could absorb the writing. There are certain scenes I’m still thinking about even now that I’ve finished the book, such as a conversation between Reese and Katrina about motherhood and who gets to be a mother, and a passage where Reese thinks that womanhood can be illuminated by violence from men.

I wanted to savor the writing, and in terms of craft, I felt like Peters played with words and sentences in a way that was very interesting to read. I surprisingly didn’t note down any quotes, probably because there were so many striking sentences and paragraphs in this book, which sometimes required me to look up words or terms that I wasn’t familiar with. It also showed me a glimpse into a world and a perspective that I don’t know enough about.

This one is worth reading because the writing is that good, the premise is incredibly intriguing, and the characters are ones that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon." —@scsreads

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"I was immediately interested in this book because it portrays detransitioning, which I rarely see discussed. I am not trans and the extent of my trans knowledge comes from film/tv and youtubers, so it was eye-opening to look at detransitioning in an intimate way through this novel.

Detransition, Baby follows three women: two transgender (Reese and Amy) and one cisgender (Katrina). Amy detransitions, becoming Ames, and goes from dating Reese to dating Katrina. Their lives are intertwined when Katrina becomes pregnant and Ames suggests involving Reese in the parenting. Through this unconventional family model that is proposed, the book explores motherhood in a unique way and how motherhood can affect your identity as a trans woman. The characters are very open in how they reflect about their desires—sexual desires and other life ideals. These wants are at odds with expectations for progressive women and healthy relationships, and I think the way these vulnerable, flawed women were written was amazing.

With these honest perspectives, also come transphobic situations. Although this book was emotionally heavy for me at times, the book's mood steers away from depressing tragedy. Instead, it focuses on the everyday lives of these characters. Less 'Boys Don't Cry' and more 'Tangerine' is the best way my cis ass can describe it. I learned a lot from spending time with these characters and I was really struck with how different their lives and dispositions were from anything I've read. I'm grateful for this book's existence and very excited about its upcoming release! 🥰✨" —@amylimereads

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"An incredible and rare joy to read a funny, queer book that isn’t primarily a Coming Out Story. Detransition, Baby really worked for me on every level especially the exploration of queer relationships and family structures. An addictive story of the messy connections between three women (two who are trans, one of whom has detransitioned, and one cis) as they figure out if and how becoming parents will work for them. Both deep and well developed and frequently laugh out loud funny. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

TW: transphobia." —@aveybookclub

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"Emotionally intense, razor-sharp, and queer as hell, Detransition, Baby is every bit as readable as early reviews made it sound. It's the modern-day story of a not-quite-love triangle between a trans woman, her detransitioned former partner, and a cis woman, and how they form their own messy queer family in the face of an unexpected pregnancy. (Because I love feeling like I've got an inside joke with the author, I also appreciated the guest appearances from Prospect Park, Riis Beach, and an MLM party.) There's a lot of exploration of sex and power and identity, and it's utterly refreshing for all of those themes to center on explicitly trans storylines. This was technically a 4.5 for some sections that felt a smidge overwritten, but it merits rounding up. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️" —@bookstacam

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"I can’t write a sufficient sentence that would do this book justice so I’m just going to list some adjectives that apply to this absolute triumph of a novel: Smart, sexy, thoughtful, provocative, honest, vulnerable, queer, funny, academic, witty, and extraordinary. I could go on and on…Detransition, Baby offers a deeply personal window into a (white) trans experience, and broadens the definition of family, relationships, and identity. I wish everyone who has ever felt curiosity or confusion about trans-ness would read this book. Beyond being a story about women, queer relationships and trans-ness, it places empathy and compassion at the center of every conversation, without edging out the “messy” human emotions like grief, frustration, anger, confusion, and jealousy. Thoughtful, sensitive, confrontational, and dynamic (more adjectives!), Detransition, Baby is SUCH A GIFT 🌈" —@adbiblio_reads

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Missed out on our February book club pick? In March, we're reading This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith. Read an excerpt from the book here.

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